Engineers help local start-up launch new auto suspension parts production

A brand new local company will soon launch production of an important new automotive suspension component made of composite materials, and say they couldn’t have done it in twice the time without help from the University of Windsor.

“It’s really accelerated our ability to get to market faster,” said Andrew Glover, president of Thunder Composite Technologies Ltd., which will soon begin manufacturing composite sway bars at their new facility on the South Service Drive. “We’d be months behind if we hadn’t done this.”

The start-up company worked with Jennifer Johrendt, a professor in mechanical, automotive and materials engineering, who received a grant from the FedDev Ontario Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative. Aimed at addressing the gap between research and commercialization by encouraging collaboration between post-secondary institutions and small- and medium-sized enterprises with pre-market needs, the initiative’s goal is to improve productivity and competitiveness for businesses located in southern Ontario. UWindsor faculty and student researchers worked with 18 companies on a variety of projects.

Along with master’s student Mike Doody, who was responsible for the analytical work, Dr. Johrendt helped oversee the modeling, design, and development of a prototype of a composite sway bar for the company, a collaboration with Harbour Technologies Ltd., a manufacturer of special purpose machines, mostly for the nuclear energy and aerospace sectors.

The company still has some issues to sort out, but working with the university on software to quickly design and test the integrity and durability of the part was an extremely valuable exercise, according to Stephen Ouellette, the company’s vice-president of marketing and sales.

“We’re still figuring out what we have to do to make it as stiff as the metal version,” he said, “but it allowed us to create an almost production-ready part rather than doing multiple physical prototypes.”

For his part, Doody – who came to Windsor from New Brunswick to study automotive engineering – said the project gave him some invaluable industry experience.

“It was a chance to work on something real,” said Doody, who is basing his master’s thesis on the project. “That was important to me. I wanted to work on something tangible.”

Working with the university will help bolster his young company’s reputation, Glover said.

“Customers like to see that you’ve worked with the university on research programs, so that really expands your credibility,” he said. “That really increases our potential for growth and expansion.”

This was actually the second time the company has worked with the university. PhD student Hart Honickman recently helped develop a computer program to analyze and design composite leaf springs for them.

An event to celebrate all of the university’s partnerships through the FedDev program will be held on March 19 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.  Tours of the building are being offered beginning at 3:30 p.m.